Gainsborough's Family Album

Thomas Gainsborough. Mary and Margaret Gainsborough, the Artist's Daughters, Playing with a Cat, ca. 1760–61. Oil on canvas, 75.6 × 62.9 cm.The National Gallery, London. Bought, 1923

Thomas Gainsborough (1727–1788) rose to become one of the most fashionable artists of eighteenth-century Britain, relying on commissioned portraits of royalty and aristocrats to make his living as a painter of both artistic and social ambition. Even as he professed to dislike portraits, and declared a preference for painting landscapes of the still-unspoiled English countryside, Gainsborough created images of his family more than any other artist before him. In turning to his family—his wife, father, sisters, even servants and pets, but most importantly his daughters as they grew—Gainsborough left a legacy that is both poignant and modern for its time. Gathering nearly fifty such images for the first time in history, Gainsborough’s Family Album offers insights into the artist’s family life and sometimes-complicated personality but also into wider questions of domesticity, marriage, parenthood, and family values at the birth of the modern age. As it does so, it reveals a preoccupation that continues in the hands of other artists to this day, a legacy that will be explored in a companion installation.

Gainsborough’s Family Album has been organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London, in association with the Princeton University Art Museum.

At Princeton, this exhibition has been made possible with generous support from the Frances E. and Elias Wolf, Class of 1920, Fund; Annette Merle-Smith; Argyris Vassiliou, Graduate School Class of 1991, and Ann Vassiliou; William S. Fisher, Class of 1979, and Sakurako Fisher, through  Sakana Foundation; and the Allen R. Adler, Class of 1967, Exhibitions Fund. Additional support has been provided by Christopher E. Olofson, Class of 1992; Nancy A. Nasher, Class of 1976, and David J. Haemisegger, Class of 1976; the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; Betty Wold Johnson, through the Robert Wood Johnson III Fund of the Princeton Area Community Foundation; the Chopra Family Youth and Community Program Fund; Ivy Beth Lewis; the Rita Allen Foundation; and the Partners and Friends of the Princeton University Art Museum.